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So what is "alambre" with regard to Mexican cuisine?

During our recent trip to the Yucatan peninsula (not the state), we ordered "alambre" dishes more than once. My understanding of the term is "wire," to be rendered as a skewer where food is involved.

What we were served was really good, but it did not come off of a skewer. I would have described it as a skillet fry.

Please illuminate me.

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  1. I haven't been to the Yucatan Peninsula but I have ordered alambre in the US. It's like an intense fajita-type dish. The marinade is a little more pungent but other than that, it's fajitas as far as I'm concerned.

    1. It seems from searching around that there are two different meanings of alambre.

      Some of it is classic shishkabobs. As this site says ...
      http://www.sailinglinks.com/mexican_r...

      "Alambre -Literally "wire." Refers to shishkabobs."

      So here is one example of that ...ALHAMBRES DE POLLO
      http://lomexicano.com/alhambres_de_po...

      But there is the other version as this site says ...
      http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_...

      "A tasty mexican dish. It is a combination of chopped things, usually including meat, roasted together on a hot slab of metal (which I am sure has a more precise name in English)."

      Maybe alambre is the name of that hot metal slab, though I didn't see anything about that. The above link and the following link also mention cheese added at the end.
      http://www.aczoom.com/cms/taxonomy/te...

      "alambre - meat, onions, peppers, bacon, all grilled, on a tortilla, optionally with hot layer of cheese on top"

      Ok, this is a real stretch ... but alambre is the Portuguese word for amber ... maybe there's some long ago Portuguese connection here with the cheese and corn tortillas giving the dish an amber color.
      http://www.babylon.com/definition/ala...

      Maybe some of the Mexican food gurus have an opinion on this.

      1 Reply
      1. re: rworange

        I've seen it in the first context you mention: referring to the wire that holds together the kabob...

      2. The "al" beginning of the word actually indicates the Arab - or Moorish - influence of the origin of the dish.

        Alambre is basically meat, seafood or vegetables that are threaded onto a skewer and then roasted. Not only can it be called alambre, it can be menued as brocheta, aguja or even mar y tierra (sea and land, a combo skewer). It can be marinated, or cooked "au naturale". It can be on or off the skewer. It can be wrapped in bacon, or not.

        In the northern part of Mexico it's not unusual to encounter alambres made of cabrito (kid/goat) and in the south out of beef. The most commonly used vegetables are onion, bell pepper, mushroom and calabacitas or squash.

        Aguja means needle or spindle in Spanish and in alambre refers to the skewer that is sometimes used. But, essentially, Alambre refers to the Moorish origin of stringing food onto a metal spire of some form and roasting or cooking, usually over wood or charcoal.

        6 Replies
        1. re: DiningDiva

          Indeed, now that I think about it, I am fairly sure that the Portuguese word rw mentions had its origins in Arabic. It seems that in some areas of Mexico, that alambre has come to mean roasted or grilled meat more generally, even if not served on a skewer. But I am not sure it would be skillet fried as OP mentions.

          1. re: susancinsf

            No, it would not be skillet fried as in fajitas.

            1. re: susancinsf

              Confirmed... recently Alambre has been extended to represent griddled combinations of chopped meats, vegetables & cheese. The latter style of cooking has historically been referred to as al Albanil (in the style of the brick masons)... my theory is that it is simply confusion on behalf of "simple rural folks"... Albanil, Alambre... they both start with Al

            2. re: DiningDiva

              Sorry for the linguistic intrusion, but alambre in peninsular Spanish simply means wire. I do not think the dishes in Mexico called alambre have any particular origin in Spain (aside from being similar to any kind of skewered meat--normally called a pincho here).

              Alambre come from the latin word, aerāmen, (arame in Portuguese) originally meaning bronze. Amber is ámbar in Spanish.

              1. re: butterfly

                Alambre in Mexican Spanish also only means 'wire'. By extension, in restaurant lingo, it is used to infer 'en brochette'--on a metal skewer. Most often the whatever-is-ordered is cooked on a skewer and then de-skewered and plated.

                'Alambre' is definitely not fajitas--which are definitely not Mexican, although you will see them on some restaurants' menu in Mexico.

                Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

              2. I live in Mexico city where alambre dishes can be found on most menus. Here, there is definitely no requirement that the food come off the skewer. Typically, an alambre here has a diced mild green chile, onions, meat and sometimes bacon. Alambre can be served as a filling for tacos, a topping for huaraches (a thick flat tortilla topped with spread beans, meat, onions, cilantro and cheese), a topping for a grilled nopal cactus or on its own. A common meat included is "al pastor" which is a marinated pork cooked on a vertical rotisserie (here's a picture: http://www.batista.org/photos/pastor2...). Al pastor means "shepherd style". It wouldn't surprise me if there was an original requirement for skewered meat as the name seems to apply, but now, here in Mexico City, the emphasis is on stir-frying the above, relatively finely chopped, ingredients together.

                4 Replies
                1. re: heymister

                  Sorry to revive an old thread, but I want to confirm that at least some of you agree that an alambre can be essentially skillet cooked rather than skewered? That certainly is what the ones I've had appear to be, as in the attached photo...thanks!

                   
                  1. re: tatamagouche

                    When I lived in Mexico City, that is precisely how it was served to me on numerous occasions. I don't know if that is 'true' to the original intent of the dish, but it had seen some sort of skillet at some point late in the cooking process.

                    1. re: Cachetes

                      Thanks! The place I frequent specializes in Mexico City style cuisine.

                      1. re: tatamagouche

                        I was just in Mexico City and had an alambre with al pastor that was a skillet (actually griddle) fried combo of the meat with diced onions and peppers and bacon, served with tortillas on the side. I guess it evolved with the traditional kebab veggies into a kind of stir fry.

                        http://petercheches.blospot.com

                2. As implied in all the previous replies, there is a dichotomy on the usage of the term. In my experience, most southern regions (from Michoacan to Yucatan -including Mexico City-) use the term for a stir-fry medley type plate to use as taco filling. Northern states (from Jalisco to Chihuahua) refer to alambre mostly as the skewer type of preparation. Some places just cook it in the skewer and then remove it before serving on the plate. As usual though, the Mexico city (and southern) definition is increasingly popular in tourist destinations.